social emotional skills

How Toddlers Build Social-Emotion Skills

The first few years of a child’s life play a massive role in shaping the person they grow up to be. During these years, they are learning to interact with the world around them on a physical, mental, and emotional level. Experts have recognized that most children go through the same general stages of development that can be divided into four basic categories during their early years.

One of those four categories is social-emotional skills, and these can play a critical role in how your child relates to others for the rest of their life. Read on to learn more about how your toddler will develop social-emotional skills and what you can do to help them during these developmental stages.

What Are Social-Emotional Skills?

Before we dive into the different social-emotional milestones you’ll see from your child, let’s talk some about what these skills are. Social-emotional skills are how your child connects with the people around them. These skills will help them to build healthy relationships, learn empathy, and manage their own emotions.

It’s important to distinguish social-emotional skills from language-communication skills, which deal with how your child communicates with the people around them. Social-emotional skills deal with recognizing the emotion someone else is feeling, understanding your own thoughts and feelings, and expressing yourself appropriately.

These skills can start developing as early as two months old, but you may notice those skills extending outside of your family circle by the time your child is a year old. 

One Year 

Within the first year of life, your baby will learn to connect with you, show joy at your presence, and work to get your attention. They will be able to recognize familiar people and will likely act shy or clingy around strangers. They will learn to play peek-a-boo and will recognize their name when you say it.

At a year old, the biggest new social-emotional skill your child will display is being able to play interactive games with you. This may include games like patty cake or songs like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” complete with motions. These sorts of interactive games will form the groundwork of how your child relates to others around them.

Fifteen Months

At fifteen months old, your child will be learning to show you affection in a more intentional way. They may hug, kiss, or cuddle you, clap when they get excited, and show you objects they like or are excited about. They’ll also start to hug dolls, stuffed animals, or other soft toys to show affection.

When your fifteen-month-old is around other children, you’ll also notice them copying other children. For instance, if one child takes toys out of a container, they’ll start doing the same thing. This mimicking behavior is an early way to start connecting and to begin playing with the other children around them. 

Eighteen Months

At eighteen months, you’ll see your child’s social circle beginning to expand, although they will still be closely anchored to you. They’ll begin to move further away from you around this age, although they will still look back to check that you’re close by. They’ll also start pointing to interesting things that they want to share with you. 

Your child will start to be able to help you with some of their basic self-care tasks, such as putting their hands out for you to wash them. They may also help you dress them by pushing their hand or foot through a sleeve or pants leg. And when you read to them, your child may be able to look at a few pages with you in the book.

Two Years

By two years old, your child will be starting to develop empathy and an understanding of others’ feelings. If someone around them is hurt or upset, your child may start noticing this. They may pause or look sad themselves when someone around them is crying. 

Your child will look to you for guidance on the appropriate reaction in different situations during this stage. When they’re in a new or unfamiliar situation, they’ll look to your face for guidance. They may also look to you for feedback when they do something new at this developmental stage.

Two and a Half Years 

At two and a half years old, your child will start to engage more with other children around them. During this stage, you may see them starting to play with other children or play next to them. In fact, this “side-by-side play” is an important part of their social development.

Your child will also start to show off a bit to get your attention at this stage, saying things like “Look at me!” to show you what they’re doing. They’ll also be able to start following simple routines with no more prompting than verbal direction. For instance, you may be able to tell your child “It’s clean-up time” and they’ll start helping you pick up toys.

Three Years 

At three years old, your child will likely be more actively engaging with the other children around them. Not only will they be able to play with them, but they’ll actively seek out this social interaction. They may start learning to share and appropriate vs. inappropriate forms of social interaction. 

Your child will also start showing more independence as they move slowly away from you. At this stage, they should calm down within ten minutes of you leaving them at a daycare or with a babysitter. They’ll be more engaged with the rest of the world around them and less reliant on you for all aspects of their world. 

Respond to Their Needs

There are a few things you can do to help your child in developing social-emotional skills when they’re a toddler. The first and best thing you can do for them is to respond to their needs in a caring way. Empathy has to come from a basis of feeling confident that they have the core things they need in their life.

When your child is hurt or scared, comfort them, and make sure they always have what they need. Give them plenty of affection, and when they’ve done something wrong, do your best to explain why that was wrong, rather than blindly punishing them.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should spoil your child or let them get away with anything, but try to keep discipline focused in a positive light.

Affirm Social Connections

Every day, your child is doing their best to learn about the world around them and how they should interact with it. They’re going to look to you for confirmation that they’re doing the right thing. Make sure that, when they make appropriate social connections, you validate that and give them positive feedback. 

When your child points to a picture of them and a relative, praise them, saying things like, “Yes, that is you and Grandpa!” When they recognize someone outside your household, affirm that connection. This positive feedback will help to strengthen those connections and will help them learn to associate socialization with good things.

Model Empathy

Of course, at the end of the day, what you tell your children is not nearly as important as what you show them. Children watch you all the time to figure out how they should react and respond to different situations. The best way to encourage empathy in your child is to model empathy for them in your own interactions. 

Try to avoid making negative comments about other people in front of your child, and take opportunities to show kindness and sympathy. Show your loved ones affection, including and most especially your child. Take their worries and feelings seriously and connect with them the way you want them to connect with others.

Help Your Toddler Develop Social-Emotional Skills 

Social-emotional skills are a critical tool your child will use throughout the rest of their life. As they get older, you’ll notice them connecting more with other children around them, recognizing emotions in others, and becoming more independent. Encourage this development by making sure your child’s needs are met and modeling empathy for them in your own life.

If you’d like to learn more about social-emotional skills, check out the rest of our site at Montessori School of Downtown / Shipra Schools. We help self-inspired learners find their best path to education. Schedule a tour with us today and start developing your child’s intellectual, physical, social, and emotional skills today.

AUTHOR: Montessori School of Downtown

It all began over 30 years ago with two newlyweds who were passionate about education. Together, Ms. Rita, a renowned professional educator, and Mr. Hersh, a natural teacher and entrepreneur, created a child care education program that focused on the concept of self-inspired learning.View all posts by Montessori School of Downtown |